Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Why Captain Wentworth is a Superior Example of Manhood
If you've been reading my blog for a long time, you may be surprised at the title of this post. Many of you will know that Captain Wentworth is far from my favorite Jane Austen hero, and I've never actually had much of a fondness for him.
I do wonder how much of this might be due to two facts:
1) I don't care for any of the movie portrayals of him.
2) In the book there is really very little time to get to know him. We see his actions, but we can't get into his mind at all until he finally opens up to Anne again, which is at nearly the end.
Also, I wonder what Persuasion would have ended up like if Jane Austen had lived to see it published. She wasn't necessarily ready for it to be published yet. She was becoming too ill to even work on her newest story idea, much less the tedious task of in-depth editing of what was probably equal to a second draft.
But I'm going off on a rabbit trail here. Frederick Wentworth is the subject at hand.
The fact is, the more I see of life, I realize just how accurate Anne's assessment of men is in chapter 23.
I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as--if I may be allowed the expression--so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.
One thing that I feel I must have in a relationship is my beloved feeling that he would not be happy with anybody besides me. This is extremely rare among men. Their emotions only seem engaged if the person is living and present before them. And, in fact, when they lose a sweetheart/fiancee/wife, they shortly find that the apparent way to solve the problem of their sadness is to fill the void with some other woman. (Hi, Captain Benwick.)
I have to admit, that kind of disgusts me. There is the rare exception... but honestly, all the exceptions I keep thinking of are fictional, so... I'm just going to leave that right there.
(And yes, I am aware that Captain Wentworth is fictional too. Be quiet.)
But he didn't do that. It had been eight years, and Captain Wentworth had not once been interested in another woman (because "a man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! He ought not--he does not."). He had kind of a funny way of showing this... totally ignoring Anne and actually flirting with other girls and pretending like he was interested in them.
I was thinking about that a little more in depth, though. For the first time, I put myself in his place. Imagine being engaged to someone who was completely devoted to you, and then they change their mind because their snobby family thinks you're not good enough? I can't excuse him for how he acted upon meeting Anne again... he should not have snubbed her as he did. But I don't know if I can blame him for at least a lot of his behavior.
As to him flirting with other girls, I do blame him; but still I cannot condemn him. After all, many women pull the exact same trick of trying to show their "ex" that they can live perfectly well without them. She broke up with him because he wasn't good enough, and his pride was wounded.
Again, I'm not excusing him. I'm just understanding him a little better... and forgiving him a little more, because he really is a superior example of manhood. He was constant and he was true. He was chivalrous and he had a good heart. And in the end, he forgave Anne who (although she suffered equally) had caused him a lot of pain and heartache.
(Captain Harville also, it would seem, appears to be superior. Although in the book he never had a reason to demonstrate that he could practice what he preached, he was terribly disturbed by Benwick's quick switch in affections, and a man who is likely to do that himself is not likely to be disturbed when other people do.)